A 93-year-old retired doctor who comes to be vaccinated with his 21-year-old great-granddaughter: in Bulgaria, the first country in the European Union to abandon the strategy of priority groups, immunization is now offered to everyone.
One month before the legislative elections, the government suddenly changed course, failing to convince those eligible to receive an injection, whether medical professionals, teachers or social workers.
“Trust the science!“implored the Minister of Health, Kostadin Angelov, desperate to see that only a third of those registered had come to their meeting.
Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU but beneficiary of doses as part of the pre-order strategy led by the European Commission, thus has the lowest vaccination rate of the 27.
To date, barely 150,000 Bulgarians have been vaccinated, or 2.1% of the population.
Never mind, the impulsive Prime Minister Boïko Borissov opened wide the doors of the centers, when finally had come the turn of the over 65s and the chronically ill.
Long queues began to form in front of Sofia hospitals, mixing young and old, healthy people and others more vulnerable forced to wait for hours.
“The situation has radically changed. Before, we had to ask people to get vaccinated. Now the teams are very busy“, testifies Sylvia Tcholakova, head of the polyclinic of one of the largest hospitals in the capital.
“Relieved and happy“Denitsa Valkanova, 31, sports a big smile behind her mask.”Friends who live abroad tell me that they will have to wait months before being entitled to it“.
At her side, a nonagenarian is also delighted to receive her first dose of the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine. “At this age, where to start?“, she replies, jokingly, to the doctor who asks her for her medical history.
Chaos and mistrust
But not all opinions are equally enthusiastic.
“Our leaders are formidable: they have unlocked the system by causing monstrous chaos!“, the Segan newspaper quipped this weekend, denouncing a potentially dangerous crush for the categories at risk.
Before this shift in strategy, about half of the population did not want to be vaccinated, according to two separate surveys published last week, while false information has abounded since the emergence of the pandemic.
Faced with the reluctance of doctors and teachers, “the public said to themselves: if they don’t want to, why should I do it?“, underlines the analyst Boryana Dimitrova, of the institute Alpha Research.
“In order to catch up, the government has largely opened the floodgates, but it is to the detriment of the oldest and most vulnerable“, priority in other EU countries, she laments.
In his eyes, this is “a serious failure“from the ruling team, which has seen its popularity drop since a massive wave of protests last summer.
The crowd of these last days “is not good news“, adds Parvan Simeonov, of the Gallup Institute.
The skepticism of public opinion is explained by a “mistrust“towards the authorities, he said, referring to a politicization of vaccination, seen as a sign of loyalty to Mr. Borissov.
Accompanied by his ministers, the head of government attends the immunization campaign in person in remote villages where mobile teams are dispatched.
Boasting “a perfect organization“, he sees in the recent affluence an argument to ease the restrictions, already”the least strict in Europe“, despite an increase in contamination in recent weeks.
From Monday, restaurants and gambling halls will reopen, he announced on Wednesday, even promising the opening of nightclubs in April.